Friday, January 24, 2014

Finding true love via true revelation of the true Son

Excitable debate flowed from my previous post. Truth or love or both? It is difficult to see in the Bible where truth is ever pitted against love, least of all in John's Gospel. Nevertheless I think we all wish to avoid a kind of 'truth v. love' battle in which my doctrinally superior knowledge taught with a cold heart is pitted against your deeply compassionate love (which proudly proclaims its ignorance of 'theology').

What is at stake is the nature of true love.

Here (perhaps) is one way to think about what is at stake: a Muslim and a Christian are debating the virtues of each one's religion, in the presence of an agnostic mutual friend. The Muslim speaks eloquently of the mercy and compassion involved in the way of peace. The Christian talks warmly of grace and forgiveness characterising the path of discipleship. Each advances the argument that on the day of judgement a (or even the) significant issue will be the love one has shown for others.

At this point, the agnostic pipes up and says, 'If it boils down to loving one another, does it matter whether one believes in Allah, that Mohammed is his prophet and Jesus was not Allah's son or believes in God the Father Son and Holy Spirit?'

This question is somewhat self-interested: if it doesn't matter, then the agnostic may as well remain an agnostic!

Of course as soon as the Christian says it does matter in Whom one believes, then truth is as important as love! (The Muslim will definitely say it matters. It is not guaranteed that every Christian will say it matters ...).

What then, might be the relationship between truth and love?

I suggest that Paul and John in differing ways offer the same answer: our love for one another is perfected when we live in union with Christ. Love for one another is possible to a degree when we are not united in Christ, but true love for the other comes when we have died to self and accepted Christ's life indwelling our lives.

There is another agreement between John and Paul, I suggest. That is, that our union with Christ is completed through believing in the true Christ and not in another, false version of Christ. An important part of the motivation for writing the Johannine writings and the Pauline writings is the refutation of error about Christ.

In the end 'theology' or 'doctrine' (which far too readily has become a formal teaching of a vast number of topics and sub-topics which can be taught cold-heartedly or, as many students have found, boringly) is the vital matter of continuing the biblical writers task of presenting the truth about Jesus Christ as the fullness of God's revelation and refuting errors about the same.

Our true love for one another is inseparable from our union with the true Christ.

Speaking of truth ...

Australasian Anglican Down Under Promotion of Theological Landmark Volume

I am about to order Michael Bird's Evangelical Theology. Michael teaches at Ridley College, Melbourne. Here is an appreciative review by Michael Jensen of the work (which I know at least one theological college in NZ is adopting as its standard one volume systematic theology).


Anonymous said...

"His prose is not weighed down by jargon (as Michael Horton’s often is in The Christian Faith.) This means that this book is actually useful not only for first year students but for lay people. It is a fun read: I can safely say that this is the funniest Systematic Theology I have ever read."

Now that's a recommendation!
Martinos Hilaros

Anonymous said...

It's hard to see what any of this means in practice, for the simple reason that each situation we meet is unique - whatever general Christian principle we adhere to, we are bound to seek the wisdom of God in our ignorance and dependence concerning what to do or say - or wait for. Sometimes the brutal truth is best pastoral response; at other times silence is required. Sometimes we must say "here I stand I can do no other"; sometimes we pray together with those with whom we cannot agree at any intellectual point.
The slogan "unconditional love" has proved to be a dangerous recipe and required a lot of subsequent thinking about 'boundaries'; on the other hand, boundaries can become an alibi for disengagement. If we remember that truth is something to be done in practice maybe the apparent dichotomy with love becomes less painful.

Peter Carrell said...

Yes, MH, I have heard the book is peppered with jokes.

Though some are not that good ... or is humour, like beauty, in the eye of the beholder?

liturgy said...

The setting up of one attribute of God against another leads to all sorts of philosophical nonsense. Pitch God's justice against God's love and see who's laughing now ;-)



Peter Carrell said...

Both comments pertinent, thanks, Bosco and Rhys!

Anonymous said...

I found Michael Horton's 'The Christian Faith' very accessible as a first year theology student, and very valuable in having a conservative evangelical source that deals with contemporary theological trends. That said, it does require stretching the mind and doing a little self-education, so perhaps may not be an "introductory" book.

My only main criticism of Horton is his cessationism, a stance which requires a lot of theological pretzel making to get around Scripture's teaching on spiritual gifts.

Anonymous said...

"The setting up of one attribute of God against another leads to all sorts of philosophical nonsense. Pitch God's justice against God's love and see who's laughing now ;-)"

Not sure of the force of the second sentence. Love isn't so much an 'attribute' of God as His very character. It's the foundation of His tripersonal nature. God's love (or rather 'loves') 'ad extra' has several different dimensions, which must be carefully delineated or we will end up in confusion and contradiction. Don Carson's little book 'The Difficult Doctrine of God's Love' is a good place to start in handling the biblical material, much of it Johannine.

Martin of Clearview

Father Ron Smith said...

"Martin of 'Clearview' "

Oh! Omniscient, now are we?

St. Paul says: "Here we see through a glass, darkly".

But then, I suppose, prophets were never valued in their own country.